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A Middle-Eastern community of Portland residents celebrates its heritage each year in Sellwood

DAVID F. ASHTON - AACCOs first President and festival organizer, Hala Goras, stands in a decorative doorway cover, which is typically used during Turkish weddings. The eighth annual "Arab Festival" returned to nonprofit Oaks Amusement Park's south picnic areas on Saturday, September 1, to offer a day of multicultural fun – including children's activities, Henna painting, music, dance, poetry, arts and crafts, and raffles.

Ringing the area was a "Souq" – the Middle Eastern general term used to describe an open-air marketplace, bazaar, or commercial district, with vendors offering many goods and services.

"Welcome to our eighth Portland Arab 'Mhergan' – the Arabian word for 'Festival'," greeted Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon (AACCO) Director Rima Ghandour. "Every year, we put on our festival, because it allows us to introduce Arab culture to people who don't know about it!

"And, as well, it's a time and place for our Arab-American community to come together for a fun day," added Ghandour.

Because AACCO is secular organization, this festival is not based upon, and does not favor, any religion, the organizer pointed out. "It is for people from all countries to come to – to know each other, and expand our world through friendship; so, everybody is welcome here!" Ghandour smiled.

It didn't take long for lines to form at the food vendors, as the scent of spices, herbs, and the savory aroma of cooking gyros and barbecuing shawarma filled the air.

Some of the countries represented at the festival include Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Iraq – "any and all of the Arabian countries," she said. "The best thing about this day is seeing the Arab-American community come together and share this day with their neighbors, who are maybe not so familiar with our culture.

"I enjoying helping people learn something new. Every year, some people come and say how much they've discovered about this culture, as they learn about our perfumes, our dance, our music, and of course, our food!" Ghandour remarked, as she hurried off to meet with friends.

You can learn more about AACCO online – www.araboregon.org

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